There’s a lot to like about a brand-new home done right, which was the case when Sarah Nolan saw a majestic gabled Tudor going up while she was house-hunting in Winnetka. “I was taken with its spacious layout, thoughtful details and the caliber of construction,” she recalls. Despite all the pros, one thing kept Sarah from buying the luxury home on the spot: “I was really looking for something more contemporary rather than traditional,” she explains. Two months later, when nothing had moved her as much as the Tudor, Sarah came up with a solution to the conundrum: Julia Buckingham Edelmann. “I needed a designer who could make the classic interiors seem fresh and modern, and I found Julia. It was obvious that she was cut out for the job,” she says.
In quick order, Nolan bought the house—with the agreement from builders Leo Birov and Steven Aisen that changes could be made to whatever wasn’t completed, including tilework, fixtures and finishes, lighting and the staircase—and hired Edelmann. With 70 percent of the structure already up, the designer came into the project at full speed. “We had to have a strategy and move quickly,” Edelmann explains. Adds Sarah: “I was leaving for the summer and needed a hands-on designer who could work as a team with the builder. Julia and her team jumped on board and kept the project on schedule to have the home complete in a short turnaround time without stopping the builders’ forward progress.”
Client and designer reasoned that some of the traditional elements should stay in place to preserve the architectural integrity of the house, but some would need to be subdued. They then took their cues from the completed exterior, which was already a new-world take on the old-world Tudor. “We updated it by replacing the customary half-timbers with limestone trim and giving some of the brickwork a herringbone pattern,” explains the project’s architect, Sergio Estenssoro. Edelmann followed the architect’s lead with immediate changes to give the house’s time-honored features a more stylish yet streamlined demeanor. “I redesigned the grand staircase, chose a lighter stain for the home’s wide-plank floors and changed tiling, fixtures, lighting and millwork wherever we could,” she explains.
A brilliant mix-master, Edelmann is likely to pair spare dining tables with glitzy chairs, crown sedate rooms with bejeweled lighting, and forge enchanting tableaux from quirky artifacts and found objects—all to great effect. And this house was no exception. Sleek new balusters, handrails and newel posts of Edelmann’s own design diminish the foyer’s baroque aesthetic and give it a more modern vibe. To temper the visual impact of the exquisitely wrought millwork, here and elsewhere in the house, Edelmann painted it in Benjamin Moore’s icy Chantilly Lace, which she considers “the perfect trim color.” Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath, a warm taupe, gives the rooms unity and a neutral foundation, which is punctuated with tactical hits of vibrant blues and purples. “A few particular finishes were a departure from what we usually do, but we always learn from our projects,” Aisen says. “Julia figured out all these ways to customize the work and together we figured out how to implement many of them.”
Throughout the house, unexpected lighting designed or customized by Edelmann gives each room a distinctive, dazzling and au courant personality. “It’s all about adding that one showstopper in a space,” says the designer, who handpicked the white turquoise, amethysts and tiger’s-eye beads in the home’s striking Marjorie Skouras chandeliers and sconces.
Working closely together, the design team was able to quickly create the owner’s home of her dreams and the project ended on a high note for all concerned. “Now the house has the best of both worlds aesthetically,” Sarah says. And as Aisen proudly notes, “We’re already working with Julia on another new home.”